Softball: Northwestern picks up sixth straight sweep of the season against Michigan State

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Softball: Northwestern picks up sixth straight sweep of the season against Michigan State

Kaley Winegarner pitches. The junior pitched five innings and struck out four this weekend against Michigan State.

Kaley Winegarner pitches. The junior pitched five innings and struck out four this weekend against Michigan State.

Daily file photo by Andrew Golden

Kaley Winegarner pitches. The junior pitched five innings and struck out four this weekend against Michigan State.

Daily file photo by Andrew Golden

Daily file photo by Andrew Golden

Kaley Winegarner pitches. The junior pitched five innings and struck out four this weekend against Michigan State.

Andrew Golden, Web Editor

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Ahead of this weekend’s series against Michigan State, coach Kate Drohan said she stressed to her pitchers the importance of challenging the Spartan hitters.

Northwestern’s pitchers aced Drohan’s test as the Wildcats (41-7, 20-0 Big Ten) silenced the Michigan State (15-32, 3-16) bats and completed their sixth-straight series sweep in dominant fashion.

“I thought the pitching staff had a very strong weekend,” Drohan said. “I’m pleased with how each pitcher stepped up and really executed the game plan. I thought (pitching coach) Michelle (Gascoigne) did a great job of getting them ready.”

NU exhibited its deep rotation this weekend, starting sophomore Kenna Wilkey on Friday before splitting the pitching duties between freshman Danielle Williams and senior Kaley Winegarner in Saturday’s doubleheader.

On Friday, both teams managed just one run through the first three innings. But in the fourth, the Cats batted around and struck for nine runs. The scoring started off with a bases-loaded single by freshman shortstop Maeve Nelson, who finished with a team-high three hits.

Two more runs crossed in the inning before senior first baseman Lily Novak cleared the bases with a three-run triple and Wilkey crushed a home run over the left-center field fence to blow the game wide open.

On the mound, Wilkey was even more impressive than she was at the plate, notching a season-high 13 strikeouts in a complete-game effort. Despite giving up four runs, the sophomore from Braidwood, Illinois pitched herself out of a few jams through the game to lead NU to a 10-4 victory.

“This weekend the pitchers were on fire,” Nelson said. “They always are, but this weekend specifically we didn’t necessarily play our best defense and they just kept battling.”

NU’s great pitching carried into Saturday as Williams, like Wilkey the day before, struck out thirteen Spartans batters. Williams went the distance, giving up two runs as the offense’s balanced attack backed her up.

Sophomore second baseman Rachel Lewis drove in two runs, including a solo homerun in the top of the seventh inning. She also scored on a RBI double by senior outfielder Morgan Nelson in the first, giving the Cats a lead they would never relinquish en route to a 6-2 win.

Lewis came into the series with a .228 batting average, but went 4-for-6 this weekend to increase her average by 20 points. The sophomore also drew seven walks this weekend, which has been a common occurrence throughout the season.

“It really fires me up, especially when they walk her,” Nelson said. “I’m like ‘Dang, they really just walked her, let’s make it hurt.’ Me and Morgan (Nelson) get pissed about it.”

In the final game of the series, Nelson made the Spartans pay, jump-starting the offense with a two-run home run to left field in the first inning. The freshman shortstop drove in another run in the third before putting the game away with her second round-tripper of the game in the fifth.

The Cats scored 10 runs, with Michigan State’s lone run came off of a home run against Winegarner, who surrendered just two hits the whole game. With the series sweep, NU finished the month of April undefeated, the first perfect month in the program’s history.

“We haven’t really looked at it as what we did well this month,” Drohan said. “Our approach this month has been what can we do to get better so that we’re a better team in May than we were in April.”

Email: andrewgolden2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @andrewcgolden

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